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Howard Trottier (left), Kasia Tokarska and Gwen Eadie are recreating an ancient star-gazing ritual on Halloween, focusing on the Pleiades cluster.

Halloween stargazers host ancient ritual

October 30, 2008

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By Stuart Colcleugh

So, you think Halloween is just for trick-or-treaters, pyrotechnophiles and drunken costume-party animals, eh?          

Well, think again. Because SFU physics professor Howard Trottier and his merry band of almost 200 amateur astronomy fanatics have something a lot spookier planned for Oct. 31 at the Burnaby campus – and kids of all ages are welcome.

Trottier’s Starry Nights @ SFU group, the physics department and the student astronomy club are recreating an ancient stargazing ritual (okay, party) that dates back thousands of years before the likely European roots of Halloween as a pagan end-of-the-harvest celebration.

At midnight — weather permitting — the group will train the physics department’s eight-inch portable telescope on the Pleiades (pronounced PLEE-uh-deez) star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters.

"The cluster reaches its highest point in the sky around midnight every Halloween and many ancient cultures used the occasion to honour the dead," explains Trottier, who organized the free star-fest with astronomy club members Kasia Tokarska, Milos Perovic and Gwen Eadie.

The event continues all night, beginning at 7 pm with free pizza and pop/juice in room K9500 in the kinesiology wing of the Applied Sciences Building. Costumes are optional but highly encouraged.

From 8-10 pm, "we’ll eat popcorn and screen a classic spooky movie, the choice to be determined by a vote of our club members," says Trottier, who personally favours the 1950s classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.

At 10 pm, "we’ll gather next to the Terry Fox statue in the outdoor AQ courtyard to view celestial objects through our telescopes and binoculars." And at midnight, "We’ll celebrate an ancient Mayan astronomical festival that honoured the dead and which implored the gods to spare the world from a repeat of past destructions."

The group will eventually retire to K9500 for more movies – and Trottier promises to stay until the first morning bus arrives the next morning.

And if it rains, says Trottier, "we’ll just stay inside, stuff ourselves and watch movies."

For directions and more information on this and other Starry Night gatherings — which are free and open to the public — visit: www.sfu.ca/starrynights.

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